By Lee Schoenbart
Del Mar Union School District Superintendent Sharon McClain should not be fired. That is the message a group of parents in the Del Mar Union School District say they are trying to make sure the district board hears loud and clear.
Some parents and teachers contend that the board is trying to replace the second superintendent in less than two years during a time of great financial crisis and uncertainty throughout the district. They say trustees are vigorously pursuing an expensive, single-minded agenda to terminate McClain over personality differences.
The board's actions are being fought on three fronts with a parent group led by Kerry Traylor of Del Mar Hills, another by Carmel Valley resident Jill Steiner and the Del Mar California Teachers Association.
Steiner, who has researched what the district has paid in legal fees and to terminate former superintendent Tom Bishop, contended the incident was blown out of proportion over a disciplinary action after a Sycamore Ridge mother vehemently objected to the principal ordering a one-day suspension of her child.
"We signed a declaration standing behind Dr. McClain and we all went to the board on Dec. 16," stated Cassie Brunker, a kindergartner teacher at Carmel Del Mar School who has been with the district since 1990. "Instead of having 50 of us say something, we had (CTA president) David Skinner make the presentation and we all stood up at the same time."
McClain was not fired at that time.
Asked to comment on whether the board is still considering dismissing the superintendent, former board president Katherine White declined to comment, citing employer-employee confidentiality.
Steiner said she believes the board has spent an irresponsible amount of money on legal costs related to the possible termination of McClain.
"I decided to do some research because I knew there was something wrong," she said. "I made a PRA (Public Records Act) request for the attorney's bills involved in this effort to terminate the superintendent and it turned out they had been trying to terminate her since July 2008. I don't think anybody knew about it.
"They had been trying to terminate her, spending all this money on the heels of having bought out (former superintendent) Tom Bishop. We haven't finished paying off Tom Bishop the over $300,000 that we bought him out for," Steiner said. "I was infuriated when I researched it and found they (the board) have spent almost $30,000 of our money, district money intended for the instruction of our children, on lawyers, to get rid of her."
Since the Dec. 16 meeting, new board president Comischell Rodriguez, who would also not comment on the specifics of McClain's employment status, said, "We've actually made progress and I can tell you that Sharon and I share a very good working relationship."
McClain said: "The board and I don't always see eye to eye and we have had disagreements, but what I want to do is put it behind me and move forward."
Steiner said she would continue her grassroots effort for parents to support the superintendent.
To learn more about the two parent groups seeking support for McClain, go to www.facebook.com and search for the "Parents In Support of Superintendent Sharon McClain" page.
"We are telling parents to be vigilant," she said. "Look on the agendas of the meetings every week, and if termination of Dr. Sharon McClain is on the agenda, we're going to try to call everyone we know to show up at those meetings just like we did in December to oppose this."
"I was the one who rallied the troops for the Dec. 16 meeting when Sharon was about to be fired," said Traylor, whose children are in the first and sixth grades at Del Mar Hills. "Through working with Vanessa Black, our PTA president at The Hills, we contacted all the PTA (leaders) in the seven other schools and made sure there were a couple hundred people at the meeting to speak out against firing Sharon McClain."
Steiner, the mother of a fifth-grader at Carmel Del Mar and a member of the PTA, said, "Out of the clear blue, last December, they were talking about the termination of the superintendent and I couldn't believe it. I was astonished. It was on the agenda that they were trying to terminate her for a minor incident."